Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Spirit Of Sharing

(It's been 15 months since I last wrote this blog. The waning enthusiasm I was feeling through 2014 finally pushed me into inertia and, although there were some good beery things happening in 2015, I couldn't be arsed to write about them. So far this year, though, I've felt more excited about the beer scene than at any point since early 2014, so I've sharpened a pencil and resurrected the blog. The last thing I wrote about in 2014 was Irish craft beer, and it's the topic of my first post of 2016)

I am summoned to the Irish Embassy in London. Have they decided I'm too plastic, I ponder? No, nothing like that, the Embassy is hosting the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) event 'Spirit of Sharing', and I've been invited.

The event showcases 20 drinks producers across whiskey, gin, liqueurs, poitín and, of course, beer. The UK is a huge market for this sector, with sales last year of over £280m (€365m) and growth of around 10%. The Food Board are keen to drive this growth further, and presumably this is part of an ongoing programme to connect producers with new markets.

Brewers made up a quarter of the producers, and represented the established - Carlow and Galway Hooker - and the new - Wicklow Wolf, White Hag and Clever Man.

White Hag were voted best new Irish brewer by Ratebeer, and half a dozen of their beers will be featured at The Rake's 'Thank Goodness, No Guinness!' fest over 17th to 20th March. They'll have 36 beers from ten breweries, and I think I'm correct in saying this is the first UK event to profile so many Irish brewers.

Are there still wolves in Ireland?
Quincey from Wicklow Wolf
Wicklow Wolf are a newish 10bbl operation based in Bray, who are already building a new brewhouse twice the size a few miles away. They have around 3 acres of hopfields, growing several varieties including Chinook, Cascade, Bramling Cross and Perle. Their all-Perle porter is excellent. They are keen participants in the local 'Locavore' movement, brewing a fresh-hop beer annually using locally-grown barley.

Malcolm Molloy, a Clever Man
Clever Man are the youngest of the participants, running for just a year, and with a nice line in branding and a solid core range of four beers, including a turf-smoked stout and a tasty American Pale Ale. Galway Hooker had four beers, and Carlow three. Both admitted that the newer brewers had compelled them to think about their ranges. Carlow mentioned they were looking at producing sours, and that was a recurring theme. Wicklow Wolf are aiming to retain the original brewhouse to make sours and look at barrel-ageing, while White Hag are already doing both.

Their Beann Gulban Heather Sour ale is a nicely tart gruit, which had lovely mouthfeel and a gently tart finish. They also showed off Black Boar, which is their Oatmeal Imperial Stout aged in (of all things for an Irish brewer) Scotch whisky barrels. Justin Mason, also in attendance, thought it was a bit 'hot', while I felt the whisky was a bit overpowering. I think we both felt it could do with more time in the bottle.
Caskmates. Unlikely but true...

My palate tends to protest when I drink spirits, but Jameson had something that needed to be tried. As they related it, a conversation at the bar at Franciscan Well in Cork City between Shane Long, FW's head brewer, and the head distiller from Jameson, led to barrels the brewer had used to age a stout, being returned to the distillery, where they filled them with whiskey, The whiskey picked up chocolate and butterscotch and, on a very long finish, I also got Seville oranges. Most of the batch has seemingly gone Stateside, but it's stocked in some UK on-trade outlets.

Finally, poitín. I'd had this twice in my life. Teeling makes one, and though they had a bottle on their stand, the little teases didn't open it. Bán Poitín from Skibbereen in West Cork were there as well, though, and I had my third experience. Made from malted barley, potatoes and some molasses, this stuff is fierce. It bit at the back of my mouth and burned all the way down. It's become popular as a base in cocktails, and Charlie McCarthy of All About The Cocktail was doing a brisk trade at his bar using it.

So, no Ferrero Rocher, although Ambassador Dan Mulhall introduced the event and was a voluble and approachable host. Still, there were some excellent Irish chocolates and some leftovers...

Time will tell whether this event and others like it, represent a breakout for Irish craft. While it's remarkable that a country with a population less than half that of London's can support over 80 breweries, the scene is growing up fast and it's natural for many of those brewers to want to try their luck in other beer markets. If you, and you're curious and in/near London, get along to The Rake for their event. I'll be looking forward to re-acquainting myself with White Hag, and catching up with 8 Degrees and Black's of Kinsale.

Thanks to Bord Bia and Charlie McCarthy for the invite

1 comment:

The Beer Nut said...

Chuffed to see these events taking place in London, and that it's the breweries with the best beer, not the slickest marketing, that Bord Bia is championing.

More blogging please!